AN OCCUPATIONAL therapist and university lecturer who left school with "no real qualifications" has achieved a PhD after returning to education and retaking her GCSEs in her thirties.

Dr Sharon Drew, 59, who grew up in Cwmbran and now lives in Usk, teaches on the Masters in SEN (special educational needs) at University of South Wales.

After gaining her GCSEs, Dr Drew started work as an occupational therapy assistant at a healthcare setting in Cwmbran which cared for adults with severe learning disabilities.

“At the interview, my boss asked me if I would be interested in training to become an occupational therapist through a new ‘in-service’ course. Naturally I jumped at the chance,” she said.

“Having worked as an occupational therapist, working with children for a number of years, I felt I needed to add to my skills.

“That’s when I did my Masters in Special Educational Needs.”

After completing her PcET (post-compulsory education & training) qualification and a diploma in SpLD (specific learning difficulties), Dr Drew was asked by colleagues at USW if she’d be interested in a teaching role.

This led to her beginning work on her PhD by portfolio, and over the past 20 years she has written several practical resources for teachers and parents, based on her experience of working with schools.

Dr Drew said she may have had some additional learning needs that were never diagnosed, and through returning to eduction, she discovered her passion for helping children with dyspraxia and developmental co-ordination disorder.

“I hated school. I was very quiet and shy, and never found that learning came easy to me,” said Dr Drew.

“Children like me, who sit quietly at the back of the class rather than being naughty and disruptive, can often be overlooked because they are assumed to be getting on with their work.

“I managed to scrape a handful of grades, but essentially I left school at 16 with no real qualifications.

“I lived on a council estate and both my parents were factory workers. At that time, there were low expectations of school leavers; you either went to work in a factory, a shop, or – if you were bright enough – you could become a nurse or a teacher.

“My journey through education has led me to places that I never would have envisaged.

“From a 16-year-old kid with no confidence in my ability to learn, to being able to turn something I love into my career, has been amazing.

“It still doesn’t come easy to me, and I have to work doubly hard, but my experience just goes to show that it’s never too late to learn.”